Tuesday, 30 January 2018


It's high time for another installment of TRIVIA & HUMOR. In this, Unraveling Musical Myth's 12th journey behind the scenes of Western Classical music's lives of centuries past, we once more indulge into the sometimes horrifying, almost always hilarious harems of hell on earth in which our beloved icons of yore so greatly enjoyed (or, in some instances, recoiled from).

Without further ado, I present to the reader

German composer Richard Wagner may not have been triskaidekaphobic (as far as we know). However, according to a statistician living in 1895, the vast multitude of incidences in which the Number 13 would make an appearance in the controversial composer's life would have been sufficient enough grounds to make Schoenberg faint dead away like a groupie at a Liszt concert.

Here are more than a few instances in which the number occurs throughout Wagner’s work/life, as recounted by author Willey Francis Gates from the calculations of a “statistically inclined writer” living in the 19th century:

Of course we see what we want to see, and much of this is a stretch – like picking at straws, but a clever anecdote nonetheless:

  • Born 1813: The sum of the figures in 1813 equals 13. (1+8=9; 1+3=4: 9+4=13)  Died on the 13th day of February, 1883
  • The full date of his death was the 13th day of the 2nd month in ’83. It makes 13 twice: first the day of death: 13; and again in the 2nd month of the year (February: 2+ 8+3 =13)
  • There are 13 letters in the name Richard Wagner
  • Wagner composed 13 operas (music dramas)
  • His decision to pursue a dramatic career was formed on the 13th day of the month; he was influenced in changing his format after hearing Carl Maria von Weber’s "Der Freischütz,” which, in it’s entirety (famous overture included) was completed on the 13th May 1820; it’s first appearance at Dresden, home to Wagner, was in 1822 (1+8+2+2=13).
  • Weber died in Wagner’s 13th year
  • Wagner’s first appearance as a “musical personage” occurred in 1831 (1+8+3+1=13) during his tenure as a music student at Leipzig.
  •  He would become director of the stage at Riga, which opened its doors on the 13th day of September, 1837; it was here that Wagner began to compose his early opera “Rienzi,” completed in Paris some 3 years later in 1840 (1+8+4+0=13)
  •  On April 13, 1844, Richard completed Tannhauser, which was performed in Paris on March 13 1861
  •  By 13th of august in the year 1876, Wagner began the first presentation of the “Bayreuth Dramas,” the Nibelungen Ring.;” the last day at “Bayreuth” was on 13th of September 1882
  • Wagner would be forced into exile from Saxony for a total of 13 years
  • Richard would visit his father in law, Franz Liszt for the last time in Venice on January 13th, 1883, before dying on the 13th of February, in the 13th year of the new German Confederation.


In keeping on the subject of all things Wagner, allow me to re-introduce the reader to some rather famous scandals that rocked the life of the erudite composer:


It seemed Wagner was destined for controversy almost from the beginning. The premiere of his second opera Das Liebesverbot was already off to a poor start for then relatively unknown composer, with a lead singer resorting to reciting a load of gibberish after failing to remember his lines.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the second performance had to be cancelled altogether following a pre-show backstage row – complete with fists and curses – courtesy of the works’ lead tenor and the husband of the opera's Prima Donna. Wagner fully intended to see the performance through after having quelled the violent scuffle, yet, much to his embarrassment, when the curtain finally arose, both composer and orchestra were greeted to an audience only 3 patrons strong. Humiliated, Wagner never again attempted to stage this opera during his lifetime.

FUN FACT: Fist fights were no stranger to Richard Wagner; in fact, in the composer’s personal autobiography Mein Leben (written at the request of Wagner patron King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1865), Wagner describes a real-life experience of mistaken identity and a near-riot that made such a frightening impression on him, he would later incorporate the experience into the second act of his 1862 music drama Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in which the diarist relates:

"Out of this situation evolved an uproar, which through the shouting and clamour and an inexplicable growth in the number of participants in the struggle soon assumed a truly demoniacal character. It looked to me as if the whole town would break out into a riot...Then suddenly I heard a heavy thump, and as if by magic the whole crowd dispersed in every direction...One of the regular patrons had felled one of the noisiest rioters.... And it was the effect of this which had scattered everybody so suddenly."
-Richard Wagner, Mein Leben


Back in 2015, the worldwide press erroneously labeled Oklahoma Christian University student Amelia Hamrick as having “discovered" a formerly “unnoticed" fraction of a musical score on the backside of a man, positioned fanny-up (that's derrière, to you naughty folks in the U.K) in Dutch/Netherlandish Painter Hieronymus Bosch’s infamous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Certainly I, and many fans of this peculiar work have pondered the mystery of the “formerly unnoticed score” – hint: we noticed – long ago: in fact, speculation as to the meaning of the music has been a hot topic amongst artistic circles since the renewed interest in the Dutch artists' work peaked during the height of the Surrealist Movement in the 20th Century. Likely, it sparked interest in it's heyday as well.

The famous triptych, so named after it’s middle panel, is said to be a depiction (from left panel to right) of Paradise, Purgatory (debated), and finally, Hell. It is in the right panel (the portion that covers the subject matter of this post both cropped and highlighted for the viewer) that one finds the oddest of material: some say the proliferation of nude men and women engaging in destructive behavior (our “Butt” man is seen being crushed by a giant lute and harp, his derrière and legs protruding underneath the instruments) as being symbolic of Bosch’s distaste for worldly lust, and their inevitable path to hell through displaying such lewd and loose behavior.

Whilst the Oklahoma grad may not have been the first to “notice” the music on the “butt” of the figure, she was perhaps the first to transcribe the 16th century era piece, telling her followers on social media site Tumblr:

“I decided to transcribe it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants of this era,”

Hamrick titled the score “The 500-Year-Old Butt Song from Hell.”

Listen to it below, played by Hamrick herself: (also check out the transcriptions of other modern day musicians, who have based their material on Hamrick's transcription on YouTube. Such a following is quite the honor for the young student.


A sketch of Erik Satie by Frueh
Parisian composer Erik Satie, ever the eccentric, held a rather filthy secret all the way to his grave: much like his musical predecessor Ludwig van Beethoven, whose shared ‘secret’ was discovered during the larger-than-life composer’s downward spiral into anacusis during the late 1800’s. Perhaps a reaction to stress and undoubted fear – perhaps a stalwart dedication then more than ever before to compose beautiful music – Beethoven would be discovered living in a state of utter squalor and disarray: it is said the rank and vile odor from wasted food piled up in his lodgings permeated the streets wherever the Bonn native chose to set up shop. Ludwig, once maestro supreme of Germany, had become a full-blown hoarder, “collecting” (or simply not disposing) of anything that would enter into the vicinity of his lodgings.

This behavior – although understandable from a psychological/physiological aspect still left fans of the composer stunned: how could such a dynamic, creative mind reduce himself thus? 

So imagine, if you will, the shock and awe of close confidantes to France native and maître d'avant-garde Erik Satie’s shared – and entirely unknown – habit of hoarding. For some 27 years, the eccentric composer had lived in an almost entirely unfurnished room in the city of is birth, Honfleur, in France. For those 27 years, it is said Satie never once admitted so much as a single visitor to his lodgings. It would be discovered, only after the composers demise in July of 1925 – by those intimately familiar with him in life, that the nearly Sexagenarian musician lived the private life of a hoarder, just as Beethoven had before him. Whilst not in the rank of stowing rotting animal carcasses and scattered garbage within his private abode as had his predecessor – Erik shared the condition nonetheless: it was reported at the time by witnesses - the first to enter the late composer’s home - that one could easily find themselves lost in betwixt a maze of stacks of umbrellas – which were obviously deliberately collected for a reason unknown to any but the man Satie himself (although the eccentric composer was often seen carrying one on his excusions), and stacks of old newspapers which were piled so high, they were said to have almost buried entirely two grand pianos stacked on top of one another! (that is one mighty tower of paper!) Upon inspection, those privileged enough to enter his lodgings post-mortem would discover more collections: shoved inside the uppermost piano were a stream of letters collected over a lifetime, and the occasional parcel.

A well disguised hammer was the better option for Erik Satie when it came
down to settling a duel.
Satie’s home, which reports seem to indicate was otherwise in a state of rentable condition once all items would be removed, turned its back on the market and instead would become a museum dedicated to the composer, known as les Maisons Satie. It has been tidied up for public access and is located at Honfleur in France.

But hoarding is far from the ever-eccentric Satie’s well-kept secrets. The famously introverted alcoholic (either of which can cause over analysis of any given situation and/or paranoia and a yearning to protect oneself) was later discovered to have on his person - everywhere he travelled - a hammer concealed within his clothing. Perhaps Erik had paranoia over a potential violent ambush after he* threatened one Eugene Bertrand, director of the Paris Opera in 1892 to a duel after Bertrand refused to stage Satie’s ballet Uspud. Or, and this is purely conjecture, perhaps Satie worried his uncontrolled alcoholism would inevitably find himself in a brawl where he would be left fighting for his life. One can only hope the latter as the reason for concealing a deadly weapon – and that it wasn’t in preparation to exact revenge on Bertrand.


Above: Just one of many fantastical quotes to come from the mind of Aleksandr Scriabin. Demure he was not. (From site AZ Quotes).

There are men (and women) with impenetrable, overzealous egos. Then there is Russian composer Aleksandr Scriabin, a self-declared deity (and not just a god – he referred to himself as the God Almighty Himself).

Not only did Scriabin, well known for his outlandish perceptions and ideas on life, love, and on music believe himself the Lord and Savior, he honestly believed he had the power to end life on earth as we know it at the drop of a hat (his final work Mysterium was infamously described by the composer to be a work so sacred it held the power to set off Armageddon itself). Such a speech would be considered a ‘sin’ so blasphemous and sacriligious to any religious sect unfamiliar with the composers’ queerness had they not known Scriabin was speaking of his own religion. Yes, you read that right. So proud and skilled above others was Scriabin (at least in his own mind), he formed a religion, recruited ‘members’, and served as it’s Godhead. He could not perish – and it would be he, and he alone who would decide when Armageddon would commence: following the production of Mysterium – which would in turn eradicate all of humankind – and send them not to heaven or hell – but to a separate plane of transcendence in which all of mankind could live among him.

Talk about an overblown ego! 

Listen below to Scriabin's "Mysterium":


"Not all that glitters is gold” seems to be the family motto for Austrian Classical composer and mentor to many a maestro Franz Joseph Haydn. Unlike his musical peers, Haydn, thanks to a post at Esterhaza, secured by the backing of Hungarian princes Paul Anton Esterhazy and Prince Nicolaus (the wealthiest and most powerful noblemen - and brothers - within the Austrian Empire); and the generous gift of a golden snuffbox filled to the brim with coins by the Empress Maria Theresa, and, most notably, the respected ruler’s exaltation, heard across Europe (after bearing witness to the composer’s opera Philemon and Baucis), the Empress famously declared that should she “want a good opera, [she would always] go to Esterhaza.” This praise from such a powerful ruler earned Haydn the freedom to break clauses in his formerly strict contract with the Prince of Esterhazy, which would henceforth allow the composer to sell his works, and thereby make profit from his own compositions.

Haydn, ever the profiteer, sold his works to royalty: in return he would again receive golden snuffboxes filled with cash, and this time, diamonds: from Prince of Asturias, (later King Carlos IV of Spain), and from Fredrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, an extravagant diamond ring.

By disseminating his works to both noble and royal houses, Herr Haydn was not only amassing a fortune for his family and himself, but allowing all of Europe to become acquainted with the music rumored to be the “only music” the powerful Empress of Austria would consider traveling to hear.

Haydn’s success story was far from the standard experience for most composers living during and before his ‘reign’. Take, for example, Herr Mozart, a beloved friend and equal admirer, and possible protégé (at the very least inspired by) Haydn – who lived and died a pauper, and whose own wife Constanze had to be gifted the money in order to bury his corpse!

So you would think the living relatives and descendants of Haydn, one of the first in his field to freelance, and, who started out his career begging on the streets, would be more appreciated at home. Unbelievably, this was not the case: Wedded to a younger – and perhaps ignorant – spouse, Haydn would often find himself taken aback at his beloved’s sans souci attitude to his rags to riches success which provided her with unforeseen luxuries. Take, for instance, her uncanny knack of avoiding the local hairdresser, which the Haydn's could certainly afford. Instead, this loving wife chose to peel strips from original manuscripts (sacrilege!) composed by her famous husband, so that she could wind and curl them in her hair on the cheap! 

And let us not forget Herr Haydn’s arrogant nephew, who inherited the vast bulk of Joseph’s estate following his uncle’s passing (it seems Joseph was also an altruistic man – the other part of his estate he left in the form of a sizeable amount of money to various orphanages to aid suffering children). One of the objects received by Joseph’s nephew as a gorgeous fortepiano which had formerly belonged to his Uncle, and, undoubtedly, on which Haydn composed many a masterpiece). 

Considering it was common knowledge that many in his Uncle’s field were often lifelong beggars and paupers, and considering the bounty of support both given Joseph and given by Joseph, one would think his nephew would treasure such a magnificent gift of inheritance.

Not so: the entirely ignorant nephew hauled the piano up to his attic, and used it to store grain!

Listen below to an exciting performance of Haydn's Piano Concerto no XI in D major:

THE TRUTH ABOUT HAIR MOZART: (see what I did there?)

Mozart's famous tresses are all his, baby.
And last but certainly not least for this edition of Trivia surrounds the grandiose mane of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Did You Know?

With the exception of ceremonial occasions, Herr Mozart had more than enough tresses to mimic the powdered, bouffanted, rolled coiffures then so prevalent in Western Europe during the 18th century. In fact, almost every certified portrait you have seen of this month’s birthday boy feature the enigmatic composer displaying his very own, expertly styled hair.  (Georg Nikolaus von Nissen regales in his famous Biographie of the maestro the observations of famed Irish tenor Michael Kelly, who notably sang a double role in Mozart's first Figaro: "He was a remarkably small man, very thin and pale with a profusion of fine fair hair, of which he was rather vain.") 

A recently discovered likeness of the composer, which was authenticated in 2013 by researchers at the Salzburg Mozarteum Museum in Austria as Herr Mozart himself, shows the young wunderkind even at a tender age with a surprisingly desirable mane (see image below).

As it turns out, it was actually most fortunate for Mozart - often a pauper who likely could not afford a wig collection to begin with - that the famous scenes in the late Peter Shaffer’s blockbuster picture "Amadeus" of “Wolfie” hilariously trying on outlandish wigs were but another misconception of the life of the real man to have been portrayed in the otherwise brilliant film.

The reason it was much to the famous composers' benefit to maintain his own hair comes down to the notorious lack of hygiene Mozart would have experienced during his life. Acquiring a handsome - and clean - wig was a matter of money, a matter of luck, and one had to incorporate unto his person a huge amount of trust that one wasn’t getting something from the black market or ridden with lice and their nearly impossible to remove eggs.

The recently authenticated portrait of a young Mozart

Historian Tony Robinson tackled the sticky subject in an exciting episode of Worst Jobs in History. From wearing actual stinking lard around the neck to draw the lice from the hairpiece, to making frequent trips to the local nit-picker, owning and donning wigs was a very risky trade. 

View a clip from the informative and hilarious series below (which dates from the Stuart period - 1603-1714 in England):

(Video is queued and starts at 18:10 and ends at 21:34):

The famous 'wig' scene from Peter Shaffer's Amadeus:

I hope you enjoyed the latest edition of Trivia & Humor. For more articles likes these, feel free to peruse the TRIVIA ARCHIVES here at Unraveling Musical Myths.



  1. Classical_music_fan1 February 2018 at 10:25

    Yes! I have been waiting for another trivia post and 12 did not disappoint. I love the macabre anecdotes. Any more of those?

    Where were you on Mozarts birthday? I was hoping for a post. From what I've read on your blog he seems to be a favorite of yours?

    Who knew all that hair was Mozarts!

    1. Hello again Classical_Music_Fan!

      Thanks for your continued readership and for your kind words. Yes, this edition of Trivia was rather tame, occasionally I opt for more humorous anecdotes and later switch it up with the macabre stories - they too, are my favorite!

      As for Herr Mozart, I am incredibly sorry to have disappointed those looking for a tribute - you are quite perceptive, he is defiantly one of my favorites. I have been incredibly busy and focusing on studies and by the time Friday evening rolled around, I realized my lack of sleep and coming in late would affect the standard of quality in which a tribute to the maestro so deserved. There was no way I was in any condition to have it ready the following morning - which would have been the only time available, as I was otherwise engaged for the weekend.

      I will certainly have something up for him next year.

      As for the hair - H-air Mozart (whomp whomp - I had to!) was gifted in every sense of the word.


  2. Scriabin was a lunatic! Can you imagine anyone getting away with becoming a Messiah in this day and age? You'd be lynched, or at least thrown in an asylum. Nuts!

    1. ...or Jim Jones come to think of it.